Security awareness training explained

September 22, 2020 | Nick Cavalancia

This blog was written by a third party author.

Cyberattacks are an almost daily occurrence for many IT and security professionals, and there are a host of different security solutions in the marketplace today that look to help companies detect and prevent those attacks. However, despite all the technology organizations have in place, their users remain their weakest link. Phishing is still one of the top initial attack vectors. Why? Because, for a wide range of different reasons – from lack of knowledge to lack of responsibility – users are prone to fall for email and web-based scams.

Organizations looking to create a more secure environment need to shore up every vulnerability that exists – and that includes their users. One effective way to help users become a part of the security solution and not a part of the problem is through security awareness training.

What is security awareness training?

Security awareness training aims to help your users understand the key role they play in helping to protect an organization’s data and other key assets. It also educates them on threat tactics, the use of social engineering, and the scam themes used in order to improve their ability to spot malicious content before they become a victim. It’s crucial that this training includes everyone within your organization – from the CEO to the person in the mail room – as each one can be utilized as part of a cyberattack. It should also include temps, contractors and anyone else who performs authorized functions online within your business. All these people have a role to play in ensuring an organization’s data is as secure as possible.

Which organizations should pursue security awareness training?

Security awareness training isn’t just something for large enterprises; employees across all business sizes need to be aware of the security threat landscape. Small businesses are just as vulnerable to attack as large ones, in fact often more so as they lack the assets to put in place the technology to protect themselves. A recent study revealed that 67% of small businesses reported a cyber-attack in 2018, up from 61% in 2017.

Plus, many small businesses can act as a gateway to the assets of a larger organization for whom they perform work. Indeed, for many organizations security awareness training is essential to meet compliance regulations, such as CCPA, PCI, HIPAA, GDPR, or Sarbanes-Oxley.

Security awareness training can take many different forms, but most successful training starts with either traditional classroom-based training or online training and is then supported by regular reminders. These can include follow-up emails outlining new threats and reminding people of their role in defending against them, visual aids around the office to help reinforce the security messaging, and even simulated phishing campaigns where your security team will send out a spoof phishing email and see who clicks on it. This latter one being a very clear way of showing how successful your training has been.

Importantly, though in all this you need to remember that security awareness training is not a one-time thing; it is an ongoing process to ensure that security remains front of mind for everyone within your organization.

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Building a security awareness program

At the core of a good security awareness program is ensuring that everyone within your organization has the appropriate level of understanding about the security threats your company faces, along with an understanding of the role and responsibility they play as part of your company’s cyber defenses.

If you’re going to build out your own security awareness training program, there are a few key essential you’re going to need:

  • Security champions – some users will already have a good understanding of security and you can use them to promote your security awareness training program and encouraging other users to build security into their mindset.
  • Top-down messaging – like many other business initiatives, unless the messaging is supported and communicated from the senior management down through all the business it will not be effective.
  • Formal documentation and support – All relevant company documentation that goes to employees should support the need for security to be front of mind and a core part of the business’ culture.

Security awareness training services

While it’s easy to set out what needs to be done, the reality for many organizations is that they may lack the skills or resources to execute a solid security awareness program. For that reason, reaching out to an external third party to help build and design your security awareness training program is a serious consideration. There are many companies out there that specialize in creating security awareness training, and they can bring a host of benefits for your organization, helping you:

  • Create a tailored security awareness training program based around your company’s specific cybersecurity priorities
  • Assess the current stats of security awareness within your company
  • Provide pre-built courses – some providers already have hundreds of online courses which can be easily matched to the areas your business needs to focus on.
  • Get feedback and measure results – getting feedback and building the mechanism to capture the data can be as time consuming as building the course itself. Many providers will already have these mechanisms in place so they can be quickly and easily adapted to your specific needs.

How much employee training is enough?

As I mentioned earlier in this piece, security awareness training needs to be ongoing, but it’s still possible to have too much of a good thing! Hit people too often and they become desensitized or switched off from your messaging, so sending out reminders of security threats everyday probably isn’t the best approach. Instead you need to find a way to strike a balance that ensures’ your security messaging becomes part of the culture of your organization, something that all employees understand and buy into. Here are a few occasions when security awareness training is definitely appropriate:

  • When a new employee joins the company – they need to understand your organization’s security culture and its’ importance from the start.
  • When a user switches roles within your organization – sometimes this will mean being afforded different access rights and, therefore, greater responsibility.
  • At a predetermined regular cadence – such as quarterly or based on negative feedback from phishing tests.
  • If there is a security incident within your organization or possibly within a competing organization – this is probably one of the most poignant times to remind employees of what happens if they let their guard down.
Nick Cavalancia

About the Author: Nick Cavalancia

Nick Cavalancia is a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter MVP, has over 25 years of enterprise IT experience, is an accomplished consultant, speaker, trainer, writer, and columnist, and has achieved industry certifications including MCSE, MCT, Master CNE, Master CNI. Nick regularly speaks, writes and blogs for some of the most recognized tech companies today on topics including cybersecurity, cloud adoption, business continuity, and compliance.

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